As of June 11, 2016 – No more gas can problems!

gas-can

My gas cans are no longer an issue for me.

Were they an issue before? Yes.

I have a snowblower and a lawn mower. I have two small (2 gallon) gas cans that I need to keep filled in the summer and winter. I never know exactly when I’ll need gas, because the weather does what it pleases, and nothing ever grows… or snows… quite the way I expect it to.

For years, I’ve been oddly stumped by the supposedly simple task of opening the gas cans, filling them, and closing them again. I felt like such an idiot – everybody else at the gas pumps on the weekends was filling up their gas cans just fine. (And I could swear they were looking at me strangely, while I struggled to get the spouts off mine and fill them properly.) But there was something about the tab on the collar that holds the spout in place that always stumped me.

I couldn’t seem to figure out when to turn, when to press, and how hard to turn. I would fumble and struggle with getting the spouts off the cans, while people at the pumps were waiting for me to get finished so they could gas up. I would press too soon and twist too soon. Or I wouldn’t press hard enough, and I couldn’t get the collars off. Or I would twist without pressing at all, and then curse at the contraption when it didn’t cooperate with me. I would pinch my fingers and/or spill gas on myself in the process. It just didn’t make any sense to me, and I couldn’t figure out WHY they made gas cans so complicated?!

And then, when I was filling them, I’d mess that up, too. I’d spill gas when I was putting he pump spout in the can. I’d overfill the containers, with a little “blurp” of gas spilling over the sides. I’d get gas on my hands. I’d get it on my shoes. I’d try to wipe it off, but that’s not possible. Even with a handful of paper towels and some water I kept in a bottle behind my seat. And then when I put the cans in my car, the whole car would smell of gas, because it would rub off on the inside of the car where the cans sat. For days I’d drive around with the smell of gas, cracking the windows whenever I could to air it out. Unless it was raining. No, even sometimes when it was raining. The smell would be terrible. It would make me feel sick.

When I messed up filling the gas cans, I sometimes felt sick for days after.

And I would just dread filling up the cans, because it was so frustrating for me — such a simple task that anybody could do, but never actually came easy for me. I’d put it off and put it off, stretching the gas in the mower or snowblower to the very end, sometimes even running out of gas. I would not even mow when I should have, because it would use up fuel, and then I’d have to gas up again and wrangle with the gas cans all over again.

It was a major logistical hurdle for me. And I knew it wasn’t supposed to be that way. But how do you explain that such a simple thing is so confusing? How do you get help for that?

Simple. You don’t. You just avoid filling the cans until absolutely necessary. And then you pray that it doesn’t rain, so the grass doesn’t grow. Or that it doesn’t snow so much that you have to use the snowblower.

That was before.

Today was different.

I’d planned to fill them for weeks, since I need to mow and I need to have enough gas on hand, just in case. But only today did I work up the nerve to do it. So, I did.

And for some reason, when I took my two empty cans out of the back of my car and set them on the ground to fill them, I understood perfectly how to open the collars and get the spouts off. It was like I’d always known. I knew how to position the pump spout just right, and I knew how to fill them almost to the top without spilling. I could actually focus on what was in front of me, and for some strange reason I wasn’t agitated and anxious about it. Because I knew how to do it. And I knew that I knew how to do it. There was no question in my mind.

Remarkable. After all those years of being unaccountably stumped. Finally — finally — years on down the line, it made sense to me. So common-sense. Like I’d always known it was, but could never actually manage before.

Seriously, it was unlike anything I’d experienced with those gas cans, since the time I first got them. I could hardly believe it.  Here, I was bracing myself for the inevitable struggle to get those goddamned collars off, fill them with fuel, and then wrangle them closed again. And none of it was a problem. At all. I got them filled, closed them back up, put them in the back of my car, and drove home.

When I got home, I realized I hadn’t closed the gas cap on my car… but there was no harm done. And at least the gas cans were filled.

And that’s one less thing I have to worry about.

Onward!

But logically, really, how can REC support a “replacement hypothesis”?

replacement-hypothesisThis the question that’s been pestering me for the past day or so.

Maybe I’m missing something here. That’s entirely possible. I’m no stranger to the concept of radical embodied cognition (REC). Although I’ve only recently come across this new approach to cognitive neuroscience, I’ve believed it for years. It’s how I’ve long understood much that I believe about the brain and its difficulties after concussion / mild TBI.

In short, I believe that a brain injury, no matter how initially mild, can unleash holy hell on the injured party — not due to the initial injury itself (though the axonal shearing / diffuse axonal injury and acute neurometabolic cascade don’t help matters any), but through the extended disruption of the overall “cognitive ecosystem” — a network which includes brain and body and external environment.  Disruption to the external environment includes strained social connections, interruptions to interpersonal intimacies, as well as disruptions of the perceptual processes which enable cognitive contributions of brain and body.

So, REC really offers a fantastic scientific approach — with an emerging body of research (woot! woot!) to substantiate its claims.

So, I’ve been reading a bit about it. On Saturday, I read Andrew D. Wilson’s and Sabrina Golonka’s 2013 paper “Embodied cognition is not what you think it is” and I really enjoyed it – particularly the parts about REC discussing a replacement hypothesis of embodied cognition.

… if perception-action couplings and resources distributed over brain, body, and environment are substantial participants in cognition, then the need for the specific objects and processes of standard cognitive psychology (concepts, internally represented competence, and knowledge) goes away, to be replaced by very different objects and processes (most commonly perception-action couplings forming non-linear dynamical systems, e.g., van Gelder, 1995).

At first glance, it seemed to make sense. Standard cognitive explanations for behavior have never sufficed for me. They’ve always seemed to fall short — and I attributed that failing to their myopic avoidance of environmental interactions, including physiological ones.

But I’ve been puzzling for the past 24 hours about how REC can support a “replacement hypothesis”, where the representations and processes of the brain can be replaced by an embodied cognition approach.

If REC by definition involves the entire “cognitive ecosystem” of brain, body, and environment, how can we possibly get rid of the computational piece of neurological understanding? Seems to me, it’s part of it. And while I do believe we need to extend our understanding beyond the echo chamber of the representational view (which seems an echo chamber par excellence), I think that dismissing it outright and replacing it with something else actually costs us something valuable — something we can use.

The need to replace one theory with another strikes me as a bit too narrow. It’s territorial, and the either-or approach comes with a cost. It also provokes push-back from perfectly capable and skilled individuals, who could actually contribute their expertise and insights in a constructive way.

It makes no sense to me, to kick the cognitive psychology folks to the curb, when the areas they’re focusing on are actually part-and-parcel of the full cognitive ecosystem. Rather than excluding and narrowing, why not include and expand? There’s some seriously interesting work being done in a multitude of areas, and I believe if we follow them all to their logical conclusions, their findings can — and will — strengthen the whole, rather than limit it.

For my money, I think these theories can all strengthen and enrich each other. We don’t necessarily need to dismiss one to make room for the other. They can act like layers in a fine piece of laminated furniture — all the more beautiful for their contrasts. They can add much-needed dimensions to the discussion, covering similar territory in very different ways.

If our embodied cognition really consists of everything, how can we comfortably dismiss/replace anything?

Wonder on…

Not just a floating brain: Action and Cognition Lab studies human body’s impact on visual perception

brain-blue-patternsThis is an excellent article – and it really helps explain certain mysteries of post-concussion issues. I’m thinking and writing a fair amount about this, these days, tying in “embodied cognition” with the neurofunctional pieces.

Essentially, embodied cognition approaches our cognition as a result of a combination of influences — from inside and outside the brain. There are a number of different “definitions” and approaches, but the one that makes the most sense to me actually replaces the brain-only / mind-only definition of cognition.

I believe that our brain and biology both affects things, and so does our environment. We’re in constant interaction with the world around us, and that interaction is at the heart of our cognitive process. We’re more than brains floating around inside skulls, making up images and meanings and metaphors about our world and where we fit, then acting accordingly. The world around us, in fact, plays a central role in our cognitive process.

It’s fascinating stuff. Take a look:

Not just a floating brain: Action and Cognition Lab studies human body’s impact on visual perception

FARGO — Humans are not just a pair of eyes and a brain floating around.

The idea that humans are active beings with bodies that interact with the environment is at the core of the study of embodied cognition: what a person sees and perceives in the world around them as influenced by aspects of the body beyond the brain. The parts of the brain a person uses to perceive the world are also the same parts of the brain they use to think.

“We’re acting beings who have these bodies that allow us to do things in our environment,” said Laura Thomas, an assistant professor of psychology at North Dakota State University. “The idea is what I’m ready to do with the environment is going to have this interaction with the information that I’m biased to perceive.”

The NDSU Action and Cognition Lab, headed by Thomas, studies the impacts a person’s physical, social and kinetic interactions with the world have on the way the brain processes information. Studies in the lab have found that factors as minor as how a person holds their hands affects their ability to perceive movement or fine spatial details.

“Just being ready to catch a ball or thread a needle will create this subtle bias in terms of what my brain is going to emphasize when I take in that information,” Thomas said.

The lab’s primary study looks at how a person perceives visual information near their hands based on what they are doing with their hands.

Researchers have subjects put their hands in a “power grasp,” with their fists closed as though they are ready to swing a hammer, and perform a task on a computer display. They then have them do the same task with their hands held in a “precision grasp,” as though they are about to tie their shoes or thread a needle, and compare their performance against the same activity done with their hands in their lap.

“We’ve found that if people are holding their hands up on a computer display (in a power grasp), they’re more sensitive to changes in motion information — information that changes quickly over time,” Thomas said. “That’s the kind of visual information that is most useful to me if I’m doing something like trying to catch a ball or swing a hammer.”

“If your hands are positioned (in a precision grasp), you are more likely to respond to visual information that is related to fine spatial details. Little differences between the positions of dots on the screen are going to be easier for you to notice.”

More studies

The other two areas of study in the lab test how social interactions affect what a person sees and the effect of physical motion on thought processes.

The social interaction study tests how people perceive a person’s face if they compete with them versus if they work together on a team.

“We found that if you’re playing against another person — if you’re competing — you remember that person’s face as being more aggressive looking,” Thomas said. “This idea of facial aggression is measured basically by — if you think about a triangle where you’ve got your eyes and your mouth — a triangle that is more scrunched up is more aggressive.”

The study on the impact of physical motion on thought tasks subjects with solving a difficult spatial reasoning problem. The solution to the problem involves swinging a string like a pendulum. The study has found that if they ask subjects to swing their arms back and forth, without telling them it has anything to do with the problem, they are much more likely to solve the problem.

“Movements of the body can serve as primes or triggers to particular types of thought,” Thomas said.

The lab also provides opportunities for undergraduate students to conduct studies. Junior psychology major Hallie Anderson is about to begin a study on the impact handshakes have on business interactions. They are bringing in a grip testing machine to see whether a firm handshake actually yields superior economic results.

“The popular hypothesis would say that the firmness of the handshake would play a factor into who would receive more money in an economic game,” Anderson said. “But I almost think personality will play a factor as well. We’ll see if the handshake itself is making that difference.”

Another way of understanding the effects of TBI?

embodied-cognitionA few months back, I stumbled upon the relatively new field of Radical Embodied Cognition / Cognitive Neuroscience. I have to say, it seems like an elegant extension to what we know. And the principles it discusses seem to quite usefully explain some of the more puzzling effects that arise from TBI – especially PCS.

I’m still learning, still reading, and still considering. But there are a number of areas where its tenets really fill in the blanks about how and why PCS and TBI can be so disruptive for so many — even in the absence of measurable neurological damage.

It’s very exciting, and I look forward to exploring this more in the coming weeks, months, and years.

Me and my Brain Workshop addiction

Something very cool is happening with my brain.

I’ve been doing some Dual N-Back training – where you watch and listen to a series of shapes and sounds appearing in sequence on a 3×3 grid, and then you try to identify which ones appeared 1 or 2 or 3 times back. I downloaded the free program from http://brainworkshop.sourceforge.net and I’ve been practicing about 20 minutes a day.

I started out just barely able to do the 1-back (where you have to identify the location and sounds of what just appeared before), then I progressed to the 2-back, where you skip one and then try to remember what came the time-before-last.

Google “dual n-back training” for a better explanation.

Anyway, to make it quick (because supper is on the stove and the timer is beeping), today I got back wrong change from a cashier, and I actually remembered what bill I had given her – a $10, not the $5 she gave me change for.

Holy crap. I haven’t remembered that sort of thing in a long, long time. I am usually bumfuzzled and unsure and slow to react, so I don’t even ask. Heaven only knows how much money I’ve lost over the years, because of just not being fast enough to speak up.

Onward with the dual n-back training!

An hour is about enough, either way

I’m working on my learning skills, these days, brushing up on things I need to know to be competitive in the workplace and move on to my next job. I’ve been working with some new approaches to old ways of doing things, and I’ve been poking around at a few other techniques I need to learn.

One of my big issues is time. I don’t have an unlimited amount of it, either in terms of available scheduled time, or available energy / attention time. I push myself pretty hard, so I can run out of steam and I end up reaching a state of diminishing returns… which then turns into a roiling, churning downward spiral of defeat and dejection, because I just can’t seem to muster my energy to learn and do anything else.

No matter how I try.

So, rather than demanding there to be four hours of unlimited time at my disposal, to work and practice and learn, I am breaking up my sessions into 45-60 minutes at a time, several times a day. I start out my days with an hour’s worth of reading and practice. Then while I’m driving to work, I think about what I’ve learned in the morning and rehearse the patterns and syntax that I need to use. If I can find the time I work on things a little bit at the office, just to refresh my memory a bit. On my way home from work, I think about things a little bit more — less than earlier, because I’m running out of steam. Then I work on things at home in the evening, mostly while I’ve got supper on – that usually takes about an hour to cook up.

So, this way, I can have 3-4 hours – and good hours, at that – of practice each day. Giving myself a short period of time to focus in really intently ensures that I will have the proper focus to really laser in. And doing it several times a day will give my brain the opportunity to train itself to see and think and do the way it needs to do.

This is how I learned how to code, 20 years ago, when I was working a “good job” that I hated. I studied on the train to and from my job, and that gave me the time I needed to learn — twice a day. I was extremely motivated, and I learned quickly that way. I also practiced on the weekends, too, and I put what I learned into action… so that I eventually found a new job in this new field that suited me. And it was good for 10 years of really nice paychecks and excellent experience.

And if I take things one little bit at a time, I can really master the individual pieces I need, and then put them all together as I go along.

And by the end of the day, I am really wiped out and ready to sleep.

So, this works out well all across the board.

And all the while, I’ve got my rocket fuel coffee and tea to keep me going. This stuff is seriously good. And the best part is, I get good energy from it, but it doesn’t keep me up at night. If anything, it eases off just about the time I’m really running out of energy and need to call it a day.

Ever since I’ve been drinking it, I’ve found it easier to get in bed before 11 p.m., which is a huge win for me.

Last night, I got about 7-1/2 hours of sleep. Up from 5-1/2 that I’d been getting earlier. Things started to turn around, when I got this extra boost from my butter-fat-charged coffee. (Make two cups off coffee, then take 2 teaspoons of Kerry Gold grass-fed butter and 2 teaspoons of coconut oil, blend them up with either a hand blender or an electric mixer until there’s a frothy foam on the top, then drink both cups of coffee – preferably slowly, because it can really give you a jolt, and some people actually get panic attacks from it – tho’ that’s more psychological than anything.)

Speaking of reading and learning and practicing, it’s time for me to focus in on my lessons for the day. I have about 45 minutes to do this.

So, onward. I have a feeling it’s going to be a pretty great day.

TBI Energy Hack – A different kind of coffee

I tried it – I loved it

Yesterday, while I was fasting, I was pondering how much it sucks to be tired all the time and how I want to change my life but tend to run out of steam.

A lot of different things come to mind when I’m fasting (I’ll go without food for 18-20 hours, once a month or so, to “reboot” my system, give my metabolism a break from processing food, and help me increase my self-control. I was feeling pretty good all morning, then around noon I started to fade big-time (probably also because I was overtired), and I needed a little boost.

So naturally I started surfing around the web for ideas about how other people handle intermittent fasting. I came across information on “Bulletproof® Coffee” which is a special blend of high-quality coffee with a couple of unexpected ingredients that are supposed to enhance your brain function, give you more energy, and support your system – especially if you’re doing intermittent fasting.

I read up on it a bit over at Bulletproof Exec, and it made sense to me. Add a few unlikely ingredients to your morning coffee, and you can give yourself a much-needed boost that won’t fry your system like straight coffee does.

Those ingredients:

  • Butter from grass-fed cows. A big hunk of it.
  • MCT Oil (some folks use coconut oil, but you have to be careful you don’t get kinds that may have mold in them from the coconut pressing process).

You take the butter and the oil and you blend it together with two cups of coffee. You can use an electric blender or you can use a hand blender.

Reading up on how the fat in the butter and MCT oil supports your brain function, I was pretty intrigued. Plus, grass-fed butter and oil aren’t pharmaceuticals. They’re naturally occurring (well, the MCT oil is synthesized from coconut oil, but it’s not a concoction that originates only in a lab), and they work with your system, instead of overriding it. Plus, they’re freely available without a prescription.

I happened to be going food shopping last night, and I have some coconut oil in the cupboard, so I picked up some unsalted Kerrygold butter (grass-fed — it’s in tiny print on the label, so I had to look for it). And I prepared myself for a slightly different coffee experience this morning.

I sorta kinda followed the instructions — I don’t have “high quality” coffee in the house yet — I ordered some off the guy’s site, and I’m looking forward to getting it soon. I used only about a tablespoon of butter and coconut oil, not the globs of stuff the Bulletproof guy suggests. I also couldn’t use the electric blender, because that would have woken up my spouse, which is never a good idea — it’s best not to poke a sleeping bear. But I made do with what I had.

I tossed a little blob of butter and some coconut oil in a small metal mixing bowl, sat it in a larger pan of hot water to let it melt, then I made my coffee (which I always brew with a drip filter using brown paper filters anyway). Then I poured my first cup of coffee in with the butter and oil in the mixing bowl and got out my trusty hand blender. I mixed up the butter and oil with the coffee until it was well blended and there was a little froth on top. Then I filled my one coffee mug as far as it could go, and poured the leftover mixture into the second cup of coffee I had waiting. I wanted to try it in different strengths, just in case I hated one. I didn’t want to waste two perfectly good cups of coffee.

I usually make two cups of coffee in the morning anyway, so it wasn’t a change in the volume for me. I wasn’t in danger of getting wired. I must admit I was skeptical about this actually working for me. I wasn’t sure it was worth the extra effort, but I coordinated the Bulletproof coffee prep with frying up my morning egg, and by the time the egg was done, the coffee was ready, too.

Now, I’ve been a hardcore black-and-bitter coffee drinker for years. I cut out milk and sugar about 6 years ago, and I haven’t looked back since. So, I wasn’t sure I was going to like this new concoction. Putting butter and oil in coffee? Who does such a thing?! I was also concerned about the drink getting cold and turning into a fatty glob that I couldn’t get down. Sometimes I get caught up in my work before I finish my coffee, and both the butter and the coconut oil are not cheap, so I didn’t want to waste them.

However, I was really pleasantly surprised by the effect. It didn’t taste bad, actually. It was pretty good. In fact, my body really seemed to crave it. I had a hard time waiting for it to cool, actually. I kept wanting to drink it. I got a pretty good kick from it. Maybe it was the reading I’d done that suggested I’d feel sharper from this stuff, that made me feel… well, sharper. But whatever – I did. I got this real boost of energy that was nothing like I’d known in quite some time. It was this steady flow of energy — not like rocket fuel Red Bull.

And you know what? 2-1/2 hours later, I still feel really great. All through. Not just my head, but my whole body.

Verdict after Day One with Bulletproof® Coffee?  Holy smokes. This is really good. I haven’t felt this with-it in the morning for a really long time, and mornings are the sharpest time of the day for me (which says a lot about how pitiful my afternoons and evenings are). They’re also the time when I need to be the most “on”. So, this new approach to coffee, with grass-fed butter and coconut/MCT oil is a keeper.

This one is a “go”, for sure. I’m doing it again tomorrow.  And I’ll keep doing it, till it stops doing what it does.

Onward.

Exercise and Rest – Back to the most basic of basics

It’s not going to get stronger on its own

Today’s Fog Factor: 65% of where I could (and want to) be

I’ve really been struggling, lately, with the sense that I’m falling behind mentally, that I’m not getting things I should, and that my emotional stability and ability to cope are eroding. I’ve been feeling like I’m on a downward slide for some months, now.

Small wonder, I feel like I’m slipping. Small wonder I feel dull and dense and impaired, sluggish and “fall-behind”.

I haven’t been exercising regularly for quite some time. It goes in fits and starts, and then it stops. I go in fits and starts… really sticking with my routine and doing it religiously on a regular basis. And then for some reason I stop. I get tired. Or I am rushed. Or I don’t feel like picking up the weights. Or I don’t feel like I have to. Or I feel like I need to rest for a day… or two… or three… or a week.

And I wonder why I feel so out of it all the time.

Several critical ingredients are missing from my life — adequate rest and regular exercise. On the nutrition front I’m doing pretty well, but rest and exercise… they’re a problem.

The two are really mutually constructive/destructive. When I’m doing well with one, I do well with the other, and it pays off. In the past, when I was making amazing progress and really kickin’ it with my recovery, I was exercising on a regular basis. I was actually not as strong and as limber as I am now. I was actually in worse shape, in some ways. And I was definitely less “put together” — I was pretty scattered, pretty confused about a lot of things (which I didn’t realize I was confused about), and even though I really felt like I was getting it and getting on top of things, when I look back — years later — I see how far I still had to go.

But when either exercise or rest is really lacking, it pulls the other one down, too. When I’m really fatigued, I don’t always feel like exercising. And when I haven’t been exercising, I don’t really feel like I need to rest. And when I’m not rested and I also don’t have the energy pump and improved communication of all the different elements in my system, my thinking really falters. That sluggishness pulls everything in me down, including my alertness, my processing ability and speed, my ability to just keep up.

It’s a vicious cycle, and I need to stop it.

So, yes. Stop it.

I get tired of hearing myself whine. I get tired of hearing myself bitch and complain (inside my head and on this blog) about how I’m slipping. “Mentally, emotionally, and physically, I’m declining… Oh, woe is me… What ever shall I do? Life is stacked against me, and my TBIs have ruined my life.

It’s ridiculous. I have a way to stop it, which I have in the past before with great success. I know what will slow the downward slide and get me on the good foot again. I’ve done it before — rested plenty and exercised a lot — and it helped me a great deal. It got me from struggling… to so-so… to standing on my own two feet again. And it was good.

It really encouraged me and it kept me going. And that was when I was even worse off than I am now.

Imagine what it could be like for me, if I poured that same amount of enthusiasm and intention into my recovery now… not giving up, not deciding that because I’m nearing 50, I am inevitably going to decline. That’s ridiculous. I have plenty of relatives who lived well into their 90s, and even beyond past 100 years of age, and why shouldn’t I, too? I’m not content to give up like so many others around me, and just accept that things are going downhill from here.

I guess maybe I’m at that oh-so-common juncture in “mid-life” when you have to recalibrate and refresh your world view. I’m also at the age when a lot of my peers are starting to give up on the idea of constant improvement and life enhancement. I’m at the point of the “great dividing”, when my peers peel off in one of several directions:

  1. towards sad resignation that they’re not going to live forever…
  2. towards resentful defiance that they’re not getting any younger and the young guns coming up are trying to push them out of the way, or…
  3. towards a point of redefining themselves based on new understandings of who they are and how they want their lives to be.

I seem to have slipped into the first group, without even realizing it. And I’ve spent a few too many hours in the second group, over the past couple of years. The third group is where I find myself heading, now — into a zone where I realize that I know myself a whole lot better now than I used to… even a few years ago. And into a zone where, based on that new information and understanding, I need to redefine my life and — oh, hell — just get on with it.

Get on with what?

That’s the question. I realize now that it’s been nagging at me for a couple of years, now. I’ve been struggling with my work situation, hitting a lot of dead ends, not able to make any headway with changing jobs, bumping up against all sorts of folks who are mis-matching me to what they think I should be doing, based on what I did in my past. I’ve reached a point in my work life, where I need to peel off in another direction and do something different. I’ve talked about this before, many times, and I’ve always lost my nerve — especially when under pressure by people who look at my illustrious past resume and try to fit me into a mold that they provide for me, based on limited information and their own agendas.

Now it’s time to quit losing my nerve, and just get on with doing what I want to do next.

What will that be? That is the question. And the question won’t be answered by me, based on my present state of mind. I’m too stressed by fatigue and not feeling well, to think clearly. I’m too out of shape and too “blob-like” to engage in any sort of existential self-determination. I’m just not at the level I want/need to be, and that’s got to change.

So, I’m changing it. I exercised this morning — 11 minutes on the exercise bike for 2.72 miles, followed by a “circuit” of light free weights lifted in all directions. It wasn’t the most strenuous session, but the point was to just get started, not blow the lid off. And I didn’t get a splitting headache after the fact, which was good. I just did it. And I did it for a reason — because I am sick and tired of feeling sick and tired — and letting that stop me.

I need to get my head together — literally and figuratively, and exercise and rest are key components of that. I slept like the dead, last Saturday, and with any luck I’ll be able to do that again this weekend, before I fly out on my next trip. I got some exercise today, and now I’m motivated again to get myself going with the exercise. I have a reason. I have a cause. And it ties in with a larger picture that will lead me to my next steps and help me get on with my life… whatever is next. Whatever is coming ’round the corner.

Because something is coming. I can feel it. And I want to be ready — and recognize it — when it shows up.

 

 

 

Food fix for feeling better

This can help… the right food is never wrong.

So, I’ve been tweaking my daily diet somewhat, and I can already feel the difference. I’ve just been making some small changes — eating a banana each morning with my cup of coffee, eating nuts and other foods that are specifically for increasing the amino acid L-Tyrosine in my system, which can help improve my dopamine levels.

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that’s connected with a “rush” of good feelings — the reward system in our brains and bodies. Having whacked-out dopamine levels (either very low, or when your system is desensitized to it) is tied to attentional issues, as well as drug addiction, pain, and Parkinsons. And since the part of the brain that produces a bunch of dopamine — the substantia nigra (Latin for “dark matter” because it’s darker than the surrounding tissue) — is particularly vulnerable to concussion, then it makes sense to me that that might apply to me.

I’ve had a bunch of those, after all.

And while I can’t confirm for sure that I’ve got low dopamine levels (you need a blood test from a doctor do do that), I know that having low dopamine levels is a problem I need to address proactively, whether I have specific confirmation or not. Hell, I have a bunch of symptoms that correlate with low dopamine levels.

Over at Livestrong, there’s an article about foods that increase dopamine and serotonin levels. It says this:

Low dopamine levels can cause depression, a loss of satisfaction, addictions, cravings, compulsions, low sex drive and an inability to focus.

Check, check, check, and more checks on each of those.

Also, another article describes how dopamine levels affect things like cognition, memory, attention, movement/coordination, social functioning, and pain. (read it here)

Now, what to do about it? Returning to Livestrong, It says this:

Tyrosine is another important amino acid (a building block of protein) found in dairy products, meats, poultry and nuts. It encourages your brain to release dopamine and norepinephrine. These neurotransmitters act as stimulating substances to the brain and can help perk you up by making you feel more alert and sharpening your thinking. In addition to meats and dairy products, other specific tyrosine-rich foods that help increase dopamine levels are almonds, avocados, bananas, lima beans, pumpkin seeds and sesame seeds.

And that interests me even more, because some of the meds they give folks with attentional issues increase both dopamine and norepinephrine levels in brain.

So, if I can increase the Tyrosine levels in my system, that might get my dopamine levels up — meats, poultry, nuts… specifically, almonds, avocados, bananas, lima beans, pumpkin seeds and sesame seeds (and more that I’m finding listed online under “dopamine diets”), and my body is still doing what it’s supposed to do… then I should be able to improve my dopamine and norepinephrine levels, and create pretty much the same results that meds will.

Maybe even better — because my own body will be doing it at the rate that I need it to.

So, I’ve been giving myself regular food fixes for the past few days — having an egg, first thing in the morning, as well as a banana (eggs and bananas are both high in Tyrosine)… eating nuts and blueberries, apples, and prunes, as well as drinking peppermint tea instead of coffee. I’m also exercising more regularly, to get things moving.

I have to say, I’m feeling better already. And I don’t have as persistent a fog over me that keeps me from knowing when I’m tired. The last few days that I’ve been having a banana and eating nuts and fruit during the day, I’ve really felt good. Later I’m going to go out and see if I can get some supplements that are supposed to help me further — some straight Tyrosine, as well as oil of oregano (which is supposed to slow down the degradation and re-uptake of both dopamine and serotonin). I know there’s always the chance of me overdoing things, so I need to be careful. But if I keep things simple, I’m hopeful that I’ll be able to make even more progress.

For the time being, I’m going to focus primarily on foods — cooking up nutritious alternatives that not only taste good, but ARE good. I’m going to keep on with the research and experimentation, and I’m going to pick up more varied foods which are supposed to help. I’m hoping this will also help my spouse, who has their own set of issues which appear to be directly related to dopamine levels, as well. In fact, in some ways, I’d say they have even more serious issues than I — and I might be able to really help them with the right foods in the right amounts.

Anyway, it’s worth a try. And I’ve got plenty of time to experiment, too. So, onward.

 

 

 

Time for a Serious Re-Set

Getting the gears turning again…

I took a break from public life for the past week to recalibrate and re-balance, and I have to say, it’s been heaven.

I ducked out of sight from all my social circles (including this blog), and I worked on developing some ideas that have been coming to me — fast-n-furious — for about the past month. I haven’t been able to think this clearly since I don’t know when. And the beauty part is, I can both feel the gears turning more cleanly, and it shows in what I’m getting down on paper. I’ve probably written at least a hundred pages of notes over the past week or so, and it’s not bad stuff. It needs a lot of thinking and re-thinking, but the process is good, and I both feel and sound a hell of a lot more clear than I have in many years.

What a relief, to just step away from all the exterior work – even if just for a few days.

I did minimal email checking and answering, I did minimal discussions with recruiters, I kept my head way down at work and just focused on getting things done, and I didn’t pour a whole bunch of time and energy into some of the more social projects I’ve had going on.

The most “extroverted” thing I did all week, was go out on almost-daily walks. Either first thing in the morning before work, or mid-day, when I worked from home or it was a weekend.

I was almost totally focused on “internal” work for the past stretch of days — the kind of introverted thinking and writing that I used to do constantly, before I got hurt in 2004. I used to spend hours and hours, each weekend, just reading and studying and writing and figuring out my world view — a cosmology, if you will — that helped me make sense of my world. Granted, I spent an awful lot of time writing down blather that was very repetitive and not nearly as ground-breaking as I thought at the time, but I do believe that all that soul searching and exploration of the mind really helped to mature and develop me in ways that I don’t see many other people developed. Most people I know actually aren’t much interested in developing their minds and spirits; they’ll settle for being comfortable and feeling loved.

After I fell and injured my brain in 2004, things went haywire. The weird thing is, they didn’t fall apart right away. They gradually came undone over the course of a few years, and by the end of 2005, I had lost my ability to read fluidly — and with it went a lot of interest in things that used to captivate me. By 2007, I wasn’t writing much anymore, and my mind was becoming seriously unhinged.

Fortunately, I got help within another couple of years. If I hadn’t gotten help, I don’t know what would have become of me.

I thought about this a lot, this past weekend. Especially during my walks. I remember all too clearly, how lost I felt, how disconnected, how fragmented I felt. It was like I’d been dropped from the top of a tall building and cracked in a bunch of different places, but those cracks didn’t show up until I’d stressed my system and some of them started to show more than others. Some of those “cracks” were pretty serious, too. There were some parts of my life that I was sure were gone for good, and I’d never get them back.

Reading was one of those things. Studying. Writing, too.

I said good-bye to a lot of friends and activities I regularly participated in, and I thought for sure my job situation was going to suck for the rest of my born days. I didn’t feel like myself, I didn’t recognize myself, and I thought I was a goner, for sure.

But over the past while things have gotten so much better, to the point where I’m actually feeling like myself again. At least, to some extent. There are still parts of me that are missing in action, and I stumble over them now and then — usually when I least expect it. At first, I get angry with myself because I’m clumsy or I can’t think of something or I’m freaking out over stupid stuff.

And then I remember — Oh yeah, I got hurt…

It’s hard to put my finger on that feeling of losing parts of myself and describe it exactly… It comes and goes, but it’s like I don’t recognize the “sense” of myself — like I’m living in someone else’s skin. I don’t have that old sense of self-confidence, self-assurance, that I always had. It feels very uncertain and unstable, like I’m walking across a bog and I don’t know if I’m going to fall through the crust on top and be swallowed by the swamp.

I look around me at things I recognize, but they don’t “feel” familiar to me. They just look like things I recognize, without a sense of where they fit in my life. Some things I’ll pick up — like the items on my desk — and I’ll remember what they once meant to me, but it’s like I’m looking at a movie of my old life from a distance, and I don’t have that same sense of connection with these things anymore. Some things around me, I know I picked up along the way and they used to mean a lot to me, but now I can’t remember where they came from, or what they once meant. All I know is that I recognize them, they are familiar to me, and they give me a sense of continuity and familiarity in my work space. Other things, I’ll suddenly remember — hey, I was looking for that a while back — and I’ll feel better, because I found them. But all in all, my experience of the things in my life is pretty strange.

And I feel completely cut off from what has meaning in my life.

I can’t spend all my time feeling isolated, though. I’ve got to live my life. So, I turn my attention to other things, and I get down to work, creating a new life for myself. That’s what I’ve been doing, lately — creating a new life for myself, and re-learning what parts of my old life I can still use.

Taking time away from the rest of the world, this past week, was part of that process. I got to “reset” my internal compass to match what I wanted to do with myself, instead of being in constant interaction with the “outside world” and all the people around me who don’t share my views, my perspective, my values, or my priorities in life. I’m realizing more and more that the people around me — at work, mostly — are living in a world I left behind years ago, chasing after the trappings of success and money and all that, as though it’s going to save their asses. Looking at their words and actions and priorities, it all seems so futile to me — largely because I went through what they’re going through about 10-15 years ago (unrelated to TBI, by the way), I figured out that I wanted something very, very different for my life, and I diverged from that world of chasing-after and started blazing my own trails.

I’ve been really making an attempt to connect with the people I work with, to give them the benefit of the doubt, to see their humanity, to appreciate their points of view, and to just be kind and gentle with them as much as possible. That’s fine. But where does that leave me? Extending myself a whole heck of a lot, without much reciprocity. My attempts to see their points of view and relate to them, seem to have convinced them that I agree with their points of view and that I share their same value system.

I don’t. They are locked into a self-destructive, petty, irritating way of life that is fragmented, disjointed, conflicted (inside and out), and is making them all very stressed out. They appear to get a charge out of the stresses, and they don’t do much to prevent or mitigate it. They actually seem to thrive on it, which I can relate to — because I was once the same way.

And every day, it’s becoming clearer and clearer to me that “getting in synch” with them for the sake of team spirit, is a soul-sucking, mind-wasting frittering away of my time and energy.

Hm.

So, needless to say, it was a most welcome “reset” for me this past week, when I was “unhooked” from that collective stress feeding tank. I really took a lot of time and space for myself, I didn’t get all worked up over TO-DOs that had to get done. Screw it. That can all wait. I didn’t spend a ton of time explaining myself, I didn’t spend a lot of time chasing after my dreams. I just focused on getting my head on straight, I spent a lot of time thinking in ways I haven’t been able to think in years, and I made a ton of progress, just in terms of getting my self back. I can feel it.

I was so busy doing, I didn’t spend a lot of time talking about doing — I just did. And it reminded me how good it feels to take action, instead of talking about the action I’m going to take. It reminded me how good it feels to think things through in the silence and privacy of my own head. It taught me that I can indeed build myself back, piece by piece, till I have a version of myself that I truly feel comfortable with. I can live in my own skin again. It might not be the  exact same skin as before, but at least its mine.

Onward.